While the world stayed in lockdown, our parents might have changed – visually, physically and mentally – in ways that are difficult to notice on the screen. Below is an emotional story of Darshan, an NRI in America, finding a whole new kind of love, support and understanding towards his parents during the lockdown.
“My daddy’s the strongest”
There’s an old advertisement of an Indian cooking oil that ends with a child shouting into the camera: “My daddy strongest!”. The fact is, to all of us at that age, our parents were strong, multi-tasking machines who were invincible. In one word – the strongest, and they made us feel safe and protected.
They seemed capable of doing it all and resolved any issue with utmost ease. Whether it was managing household chores, helping us out with our homework or succeeding in their professional lives. Our parents were our first heroes (while we struggle our way into adulthood and rely on memes to get through life).
Then one day we get a rude awakening when we realise that they need to undergo a cataract surgery or a knee replacement or that they can’t do the simplest of tasks without exerting a lot of energy. It dawns on us that they’re getting old.
We are always aware of their age. We all understand the human lifecycle, but nothing prepares us for this feeling we get when we finally realize that our parents are now old.
“I remember exactly when it struck me.”
When I went back home for the first time after moving to the USA, I was surprised to see the wrinkles on my mom’s face and my dad’s greying hair. It’s not that I hadn’t noticed this earlier. I had. But it somehow felt more prominent this time. I can’t point it out clearly, but there was something different about them.
The NRI dilemma
I used to jokingly call my mom ‘Buddhi’ (old) when she was in her 40s. That joke hasn’t aged well. Back then, she used to tell me that I’d realize when she gets old.
So naturally, I was a little sceptical of leaving them and moving to a different country. Not because they were getting old and it’s my responsibility to take care of them. Well, it is my responsibility, but unlike most Indian families where kids are raised in a way that they can become their parents’ “Budhape Ki Lathi”, I was never under that pressure.
The reason why I did leave and came to the USA was that I didn’t consider them old at that moment. When I met them just eight months later, even though we’d had video calls almost every day, it was difficult to cope with my parents changing so much.
They pretended that they were totally fine and not facing any issues. But I knew they were just saying all that to allay my fears. The child in me felt the anxiety, but the adult in me needed to understand how to deal with it because they’ve been my support system all my life and now it is my turn to make sure I’m there for them.
The world works in truly mysterious ways
Three months after I returned back to the US, the world as we know it changed. I can say this with confidence, millions of children staying away from their parents were shocked to realize that their parents may be susceptible to this deadly virus because they’re 60 and above and have certain pre-conditions.
Over the past year of the pandemic and endless lockdown, the roles reversed. The kids became parents and the parents were the ones that needed to be looked after.
I no longer get calls from them. Instead, I call them myself, first thing every morning. Our conversations are short and sweet. We ask each other if we’re fine and talk about other things for a few minutes and hang up.
On weekends, we talk to each other at length. We discuss everything under the sun. We talk about politics in India and the US. I’ve finally managed to convince them that not everything they read on WhatsApp is true and that it wasn’t me who stole my dad’s pen 18 years ago. They are more open to newer ideas and indulge me when I present a radical concept to them.
They’ve started exercising. If any of you are from a Gujarati family, you will understand how difficult it is to get Gujjus to exercise and then not have a heavy breakfast.
I’ve realized that all they need from me is that I spend some time with them and not the latest iPhone. I’m closer to my parents now than I ever was. This is ironic because I’m actually thousands of miles away (12,530 km to be precise).
I have also realized that there was nothing I could do that would stop them from ageing. Coming to this acceptance was a difficult journey but a journey we all need to make.
I’ll end with a small incident that recently happened. I woke up suddenly early in the morning and had this urge to speak to my mom. No particular reason. It was still 4 hours before my usual time to call them. She picked up, we had a short chat and I hung up promising to call her back at my usual time. After I hung up, it seemed eerily similar to the calls I used to get from her sometimes when she simply wanted to hear my voice.
If you want to support your parents remotely in an easy way, browse ParentCare’s services to book doctor appointments, homecare or errands. We help NRIs arrange services for their parents via WhatsApp and enjoy the peace of mind knowing that we will coordinate everything on the ground. Payments are simpler with a credit card to one ParentCare account, and then our team manages payment to all the service providers. This removes the administration time of paying different service providers in their bank accounts.